Surprise! You’re on the Do Not Sail list. Now what?

Do Not Sail lists are difficult to get removed from -- maybe even impossible.

Norwegian Cruise Line just informed Christie Cook that she has been added to its Do Not Sail list. In other words, she’s banned from cruising with NCL and its affiliated lines — forever. And she says the company will not tell her why. However, the details of her case provide strong clues for her banishment.

Now Cook wants the Elliott Advocacy team to ask NCL to remove the ban and allow her to cruise again.

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Cook’s dilemma illustrates what can happen if you run afoul of a megacorporation. All major cruise lines can and do reject passengers who they believe to be problematic. Unfortunately, if you find yourself on a Do Not Sail list, the only remedy may be to cruise on a different line.

Cruise cabin problems on the inaugural season of the Norwegian Bliss

Cook’s trouble with NCL began last summer during her family’s cruise to Alaska. Cook had booked two suites aboard the Norwegian Bliss. The ship was sailing its inaugural season, and so the family’s expectations were high for the brand-new vessel.

However, there were rough seas ahead (figuratively, not literally).

“The problem was that we booked connecting rooms, but ours weren’t,” Cook recalled. “Our two daughters, ages 12 and 14, were separated from us.”

Cook says she spent much of her time over the next hours and days trying to correct the situation.

“I was never aggressive, abusive or ugly,” Cook explains. “I did ask many times for help with a resolution but was never out of line.”

As the Norwegian Bliss was on its inaugural season, the cruise was booked to capacity. So despite Cook’s persistent requests, the family remained in the two unconnected cabins.

Not on the Do Not Sail list — yet

When Cook and her family arrived home, she continued to complain about the mishandled reservation. She’s certainly not the first disgruntled passenger to contact us about a disappointing cruise cabin.

But Cook is the first traveler who got banned from cruising because of her problem-solving tactic.

After filing her complaint, the family received a somewhat standard apology letter from Norwegian Cruise Line. It did not address Cook’s complaints specifically, but it expressed NCL’s regrets that it had not met her expectation on the inaugural season of the Norwegian Bliss. As a result, NCL offered the family four, $750 cruise credit vouchers for a future cruise — $3,000 in total cruise credits.

Cook wasn’t satisfied with this offer and requested that NCL apply a $3,000 refund to their Norwegian Bliss cruise. She received a swift response to her additional request: No.

Then Cook did something that I suspected is what landed her on the Do Not Sail list. She contacted American Express and disputed $3,000 of the cost of the Norwegian Bliss cruise — the value of the cruise credits. American Express reversed the $3,000 and began a chargeback investigation.

And Cook began to plan the family’s next NCL cruise — completely unaware that she was about to be permanently banned from cruising with NCL.

Now you’re banned from cruising

Within weeks of filing the credit card dispute with American Express, Cook lost the case.

This loss is not a surprise since the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) only allows for credit card disputes for billing errors. Not receiving connecting cabins on your otherwise enjoyable cruise is not a valid reason for a credit card dispute.

Did her credit card chargeback get her banned from cruising?
These are the only legitimate reasons to file a credit card dispute under the FCBA (credit: FTC)

But the loss of the credit card dispute was only part of the bad news coming Cook’s way. Soon she received a call that NCL had canceled her reservation on the Norwegian Breakaway for next summer. Further, the representative explained, NCL had added her name to its Do Not Sail list.

Cook says that NCL’s representative told her that the banning had to do with the $3,000 dispute. And despite Cook explaining that she lost the dispute, the agent did not change her position. Cook’s name would remain on the Do Not Sail list. NCL canceled the cruise and refunded her money.

The ban stunned Cook.

Is there any way off the Do Not Sail list?

For the next several weeks, Cook was under the impression that she only need to prove that she had lost the chargeback and NCL would remove her from the Do Not Sail list. This theory proved not to be the case, but she repeatedly sent the American Express information to NCL.

Finally, Cook sent her request to the Elliott Advocacy team to ask for our help. At that time, it appeared that she did not understand the gravity of the situation. She was still hoping to get her $3,000 in cruise credits back and applied to a new cruise.

I want NCL to honor the credit they offered me due to their error.  And, of course, I would also like to be off of their Do Not Sail list because my family, despite their customer service issues, would like to book again with them.

Will NCL grant her wish?

But when I looked over Cook’s paper trail, I thought it was doubtful that NCL would grant any of her wishes. She had filed a chargeback in a way that could be interpreted as a type of “friendly fraud.”* Cruise credits have no cash value. So asking American Express to convert the cruise credit into a $3,000 refund of the cost of the trip on the Norwegian Bliss was wrong. NCL never offered a $3,000 refund. It gave each of her family members a $750 cruise credit for a future trip — a goodwill gesture.

*Friendly fraud means that a consumer is not intentionally trying to do something that could be considered fraud. It usually happens when a consumer is not fully aware of the correct use of the chargeback dispute mechanism — and they end up charging back the cost of goods or services that they legitimately owe to the merchant. In most cases, this just ends in a lost chargeback and the money is returned to the merchant. But if a consumer does this too many times, there can be other repercussions. 

Cruise credits have no cash value

In fact, the cruise credit information that NCL provided to Cook makes their cash value crystal clear:

Please note cruise credits are valid for sailings within 12 months from the date of this letter. These cruise credits are non-transferable and have no cash value.

I explained to Cook that her credit card dispute of the value of the cruise credits was a wholly incorrect use of a chargeback. I shared my suspicion that this move is what landed her on the Do Not Sail list. She was surprised and said that she had no idea that she couldn’t dispute the cruise credit value. She said that she had even mentioned her plans to an NCL employee on the ship.

I believe it was someone on the ship [that I told] and also [I told] someone I spoke to regarding the credit. I told them I was not happy with a credit for future use because I did not know if I was going to be able to take another cruise. And to clarify, they did not say [the chargeback] was fine to do. They said if that’s what I wanted to do, feel free to do so. But no one told us, in any way that this could further complicate our situation.

Will NCL clarify the reason for this lifetime ban from cruising?

Cook insisted that if I could contact NCL and provide the proof of her lost dispute, that NCL would likely lift the ban. She explained, her children love Norwegian Cruise Line and she didn’t want to disappoint them.

I was doubtful that anything I could do would even pry an explanation from NCL about Cook’s banning. And getting the ban lifted? An even more remote possibility.

Our friends on the cruise line teams are always helpful in correcting company mistakes.

Cruise cases that have ended successfully:

However, when a passenger gets put on the Do Not Sail list or gets kicked off a cruise, no cruise line has been willing to discuss specifics with our team. The silence is likely a result of the passenger’s case being sent to the cruise line’s legal department. And so we’ve been unable to help even one passenger get removed from a Do Not Sail list.

But since Cook was persistent and I had the impression that there was more to the story, I contacted NCL. I wanted to find out if her banning was permanent. And I asked if the $3,000 credit card dispute was what led to her placement on the Do Not Sail list. I attached a copy of the letter from American Express about her credit card dispute loss — just in case.

No specific comment from NCL over this banishment

The NCL executive resolution team responded with the expected answer to my query:

Hi Michelle,

Our apologies for the delay.

Similar to your previous inquiry, we respect guest privacy and don’t discuss our relationships with them publicly. Again, sorry we cannot be of more assistance.

So today, Cook is no closer to knowing exactly why she’s on the Do Not Sail list. And she has no idea if there is a chance of ever being taken off the list. She continues to send email requests to various executives looking for answers. She says she won’t give up — because her kids are NCL’s biggest fans.

When a cruise line puts a customer on a Do Not Sail list should it be required to give a written explanation?

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